For the first time in months, Egyptian security delegation visits the Gaza Strip

Arrival of Cairo officials in coastal enclave comes after Hamas admitted it was rebuked by Egypt over chief Ismail Haniyeh’s visit to Iran

Adam Rasgon is a former Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Palestinian men prepare an incendiary device to be flown toward Israel, near the Israel-Gaza border east of Al-Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, January 22, 2020. (Ali Ahmed/Flash90)
Palestinian men prepare an incendiary device to be flown toward Israel, near the Israel-Gaza border east of Al-Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, January 22, 2020. (Ali Ahmed/Flash90)

Egyptian intelligence officials arrived in the Gaza Strip on Monday, in their first visit to the coastal enclave in several months.

The delegation, led by Ahmed Abdel Khaliq, the head of the Palestinian bureau in the Egyptian General Intelligence Services, entered Gaza by way of the Erez crossing, the sole pedestrian passageway between Israel and the small territory, several Palestinian news outlets reported.

The last visit of Egyptian intelligence officials to Gaza took place on September 8, the Hamas-affiliated Palestinian Information Center reported.

Tensions have recently spiked between Hamas and Egypt after the terror group’s chief, Ismail Haniyeh, visited Iran in January and participated in the funeral of slain general Qassem Soleimani, many Arabic-language news outlets have reported.

Senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya said in late January that Egypt rebuked Hamas over Haniyeh’s visit to Iran.

“Our brothers in Egypt scolded us for visiting Iran, but [Hamas] has its own independent stance,” Hayya told reporters in Gaza on January 21.

Egypt is allied with a number of Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which view Iran as a regional foe.

The arrival of the Egyptian intelligence delegation in Gaza also comes following a marked uptick in the launch of projectiles and balloon-borne explosive devices from the coastal enclave into Israel over the past two weeks.

The Israel Defense Forces has said it has responded to the projectiles and incendiary balloons by carrying out airstrikes against Hamas targets in Gaza.

In this photo, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh speaks at the funeral of Qassem Soleimani, in Tehran, Iran, January 6, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader)

Egypt, alongside the United Nations and Qatar, has played a key role in brokering informal ceasefire understandings between the Hamas terror group, which controls Gaza, and Israel.

The understandings have largely entailed Israel lifting restrictions on the movement of goods and people into and out of Gaza, in exchange for Hamas maintaining relative quiet in the border region between the Strip and the Jewish state.

The Egyptian intelligence officials were slated to meet Hamas leaders to discuss the understandings, the Hamas-linked al-Resalah reported, adding that they would also tour the border region between Egypt and Gaza.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened a harsh military response if the attacks from Gaza persist.

“I want to make this clear: We won’t accept any aggression from Gaza. Just a few weeks ago, we took out the top commander of Islamic Jihad in Gaza, and I suggest that Islamic Jihad and Hamas refresh their memories,” Netanyahu said at a cabinet meeting, referring to Baha Abu al-Ata, a senior Islamic Jihad terror group commander who Israel eliminated in a targeted killing in November.

“I won’t lay out in detail all our actions and plans in the media, but we’re prepared for crushing action against the terror groups in Gaza. Our actions are powerful, and they’re not finished yet, to put it mildly,” he said.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said that Netanyahu’s threats of a heavy-handed military response does not “frighten or confuse us.”

“They will only push our Palestinian people and its valiant resistance in the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem and the rest of Palestine to continue its struggle,” he said, adding that they will also lead to more “explosion and revolt in the face of the occupation.”

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